The Oak Cliff Film Festival crew is sitting in the back of Wild Detectives, bantering over the recent uptick in interest for slow-core Soviet cinema. They just showed Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a challenging piece of stitched-up long shots, and each has theories on why the crowds were so large.
One thing they know for sure: They weren’t getting these kinds of crowds for difficult films seven years ago, when Texas Theatre first opened.
They are completely unaware that they’ve created this demand.
Since reopening the historic venue as an arthouse, this tight-knit group of filmmakers has taken a less obvious programming path. In Dallas, film lovers visit specific theaters for Oscar contenders and others for blockbusters. Texas Theatre rarely shows either.
Instead, the crew chooses revered repertory root material, crusty trash flicks and modern indie circuit gems. Over time, that recipe has gained traction.
The average ticket holder wants reliably unique and surprising experiences without having to search too hard. Texas Theatre delivers that, week after week. Year after year. Now when folks are told to come see a subtitled, two-and-a-half hour religious allegory, everyone shows up.
Not bad for a team of theater operators with day jobs.
Oak Cliff Film Festival is the theater’s annual chimerical mascot, stitching bands, films, parties, first-looks and workshops into a tight, four-day block. Now, as Texas Theatre’s taproot grows deeper, its festival bloom has also flourished.
As the festival begins its sixth install this Thursday, June 8, we may see its audience broaden even more. That’s because as Dallas grows conditioned to seek deeper-cut cinema, OCFF becomes more than a film fest for filmmakers: It’s a required marathon for anyone who just loves movies.
Part of perfecting that experience means finding new ways to grow on an interior scale without increasing volume. To do it, the fest’s co-founders Jason Reimer, Barak Epstein and Adam Donaghey and festival coordinator Amanda Presmyk work within the program’s existing space limits to refine its core ingredients.
This year, they’ve nailed down all the films they claim they wanted, brought in new talents they feel people need to know about and borrowed a few screens from Alamo Cedars to showcase select screenings on the best technology pairing possible.
They’ve also gone big on cinematography “as a vocation, as a spotlight,” Epstein says. Thanks to a special project funding grant from the Office of Cultural Affairs, they’re bringing in a bunch of gear and Wyatt Garfield, the cinematographer from opening night’s second film, Porto, to run a workshop on his trade.
The goal is to answer the basics: “How the heck do I get into all of this stuff?” Presmyk explains. “If I’m someone coming to this festival to get into filmmaking and I want to do that, how do I get into cinematography, what does that look like?”
Continuing its tradition of creative crossover, the crew pairs film and music a few times this year: once with the Suzanne Ciani (our synth mom) doc, A Life in Waves, on Friday night, followed by a Dallas Ambient Music Night showcase featuring New Fumes and Austin-based act Dallas Acid.
“From what I hear, [Dallas Acid] are very big on the planetarium circuit,” Epstein says.
Another coupling keeps it all in the family with nearly back-to-back-to-back Jodorowskys. At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, catch Alejandro’s psychedelically surreal 1989 pull Santa Sangre; then stick around for the famous cult icon’s latest offering, Endless Poetry, in its Texas premiere at 7:15 p.m. (If you’re buying tickets, get them in advance.) At 10 p.m. the stage and torch are passed down a generation to Adán Jodorowsky, who will perform as his alter ego and portmanteau, Adanowsky.
Whether you lean toward lighthearted offerings like the foul-mouthed nun flick The Little Hours or want to spend 120 minutes watching the painful death of an elderly king in Sunday’s Death of Louis XIV, there’s something in this programming collection for you. Here are just a few highlights; find them all at oakclifffilmfestival.com.
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.
7:30 p.m. Thursday
A lemon is a vehicle with numerous severe issues and, by extension, any product with flaws too great or severe to serve its purpose.
Janicza Bravo (Atlanta, Divorce, Gregory Go Boom) likes to let her characters get weird. In Lemon, her first narrative feature, she lights the dark comedy with big personalities who all feel they deserve more than they have.
Bravo sets the scene early with Michael Cera and Gillian Jacobs workshopping a version of The Seagull. Greedy behavior is rewarded. Soon, you’re immersed in a zany world where everyone plays a leading role on this stage of life without recognizing the plot lines of those surrounding them.
It’s completely wild-eyed and establishes Bravo’s specific type of absurdist humor. Plus, the cast is a wish list drafted by your subconscious: Brett Gelman (co-writer, lead), Judy Greer, Nia Long, Rhea Perlman, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin and a whole bunch more. Bravo and Gelman will both be at OCFF, so say hi.
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.
9:45 p.m. Friday
Life has thousands of turning points, moments of opportunity that can shift your storyline in various directions. Jake (Anton Yelchin in his final performance) and Mati (Luci Lucas) are caught in one of those emotional turnstiles in Porto, a film told in three acts, from three perspectives.
We watch the lovers relive a one-night encounter from long ago in a gorgeous composition of analog film formats, replayed like a memory. Director Gabe Klinger uses Super 8 and 16mm to frame each character’s perspective and mimic their emotional states. The most impassioned moments get shown on seductive 35mm. It makes sense — film is often coupled with nostalgia, but it’s also more than that.
This film loves film, moviemaking and the auteurs that proceeded it. Here, celluloid isn’t called on to relive better times. Instead, it’s still the best you’ve ever had.
Bonus: Klinger made his own prints of Porto to screen on film, and OCFF has one.
Double bonus: Garfield, Porto’s cinematographer, will be at OCFF leading a free workshop on how to get started in his field. It’s OCA grant-funded, targets those who are entry- to mid-level (think film students and a few years in) and is Saturday at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center (11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.).
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Texas is a reluctant home to thousands of invasive species. Our mild winters and Southern hospitality often allow them to take root, thrive and steal nourishment from their native counterparts. Without intervention, our landscapes would be very different.
This slow-burn thriller by Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund takes place in Austin — currently a hotbed of displacement. It stars Allison Tolman (Fargo, season one) as Merle, daughter of a departed music legend, and Sophie Reid as Sinaloa, the English offspring Daddy never mentioned.
Sinaloa introduces herself from the shadows of Merle’s front porch. She isn’t fragile. She has hauntingly determined eyes, a tight jawline and a smile that’s disconnected from the rest of her being. She speaks and sings in graveside metaphors.
This Southern gothic is an exceptionally tense web of inheritance, survival and shared bloodlines. Do yourself a favor and take a cautious dip with La Barracuda.
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.
3:30 p.m. Sunday
If you never have to grow up, life stays easy. Others cater to you. You get what you want when you want it, and you can disrupt lives to make sure you’re not inconvenienced. Infinity Baby plays with three such storylines of arrested development.
In a world where abortion is banned but stem cell testing is rampant, understandably a few mishaps will occur. The result? One thousand “Infinity Babies” — you know, little buddies that you can cuddle forever.
The infants’ handlers (Martin Starr, Kevin Corrigan) exist in a state of stunted growth, as does the management, played by Tinder nightmare Ben (Kieran Culkin) and his opportunistic uncle Neo (Nick Offerman).
“The writer of this film is a guy named Onur Tukel,” Epstein says. “He’s one of the best writers working today.”
Director Bob Byington will be in town for the screening, so you can pick his brain on the film’s absurdist bend.
1230 W. Davis St.
12:30 p.m. Saturday
“If you’re into Matthew Barney movies, then this one is for you,” Reimer says. “It’s be-e-e-eautiful.”
Epstein shoots back: “I’ll give you Matthew Barney, but to me it’s like if Kubrick wanted to make a movie about competitive falconry, this is the movie he would have made.”
The doc is a luxurious feature first for Italian artist Yuri Ancarani and looks at the lives of ultrawealthy tribesmen embarking on a desert get-together.
“It’s just about these sheiks who hang out in the dessert and have falcons and have cheetahs and drink Pepsi,” Epstein explains.
Pumped even richer with an opulent score, this story of excess and impossible lives feels like the stuff of fiction. Expand your worldview and party with the sheiks.
1005 S. Lamar St.
5 p.m. Sunday
You need more Harry Dean Stanton in your life. And what better way to get it than with a meditation on existence that places Stanton center stage?
The directorial debut of another character actor, John Carroll Lynch, looks inside the life of Lucky (Stanton), a 90-year-old sage with a strict daily routine. Content with life but unsure of what comes next, the many-pack-a-day, atheist cowboy finds dialog at the diner and local bar. In other town news, Howard (David Lynch) is missing his pet tortoise.
If buying tickets individually, get yours now for Lucky — it’s selling out.
A Ghost Story
231 W. Jefferson Blvd.
8 p.m. Sunday
Set as the festival closer, this Texas premiere is the biggest of deals. David Lowery’s new minimalist tale of love and loss opens in theaters next month, but first the A24 release gets a bear hug/preview at the Texas Theatre. For the OCFF crew, this moment is exceptionally meaningful.
Yes, there’s validation when another local makes global headlines, but this feels much more personal. For Reimer, A Ghost Story is a lesson to young filmmakers that great art is attainable, even on a tiny budget.
“It’s not about the tricks,” he says. “If your story is good enough and you know how to edit it, you could do this.”
For Presmyk, it mends recent wounds for those trying to make a living in Dallas working in the industry. She sees it as a reminder of what’s attainable here, without relocating to a coast.
“We’re going to have A Ghost Story, and there will be hundreds of people there, and that will be a big shot to the arm for the film community,” she says.
For Donaghey, who did some work on the project, the thrill is even more practical.
“It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time,” he says. “And it could have been good. It could have been weird. But I wasn’t expecting it to be as amazing, fantastic as it is. … And fame hasn’t gotten to him at all.”
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“Well,” Reimer jokes, “he put in a helicopter pad…”
“And,” Epstein pings back, “he moved the pool twice.”
Join in the homecoming at 8 p.m. Sunday night at Texas Theatre. Non-badge holders should buy tickets in advance — it’s the smart move.
Oak Cliff Film Festival runs from June 8-11 at various Dallas locations. Visit oakclifffilmfest.org for badges and tickets.